The teams with the deepest quarterback contests are often the weakest at the top of the depth chart. Such is the reality of the college football landscape, where players are free to transition without missing a season.
Transfers tend to schools with no obvious starter.
Teams used to try to hoard four grantee quarterbacks to protect themselves from injury, and younger quarterbacks served as understudies before taking on larger roles in future seasons.
Now, however, the rate of player transfers makes it a challenge for teams to amass even three scholarship quarterbacks. This is especially true in programs where talent clearly outperforms the competition and the path to entry-level employment is narrower.
Seen through that lens, it’s a bit of an endorsement for Tennessee’s 2023 season that quarterback Tayven Jackson made the move to Indiana this month rather than face a chance to finish third on a depth chart that included senior Joe Milton and five- Stars include newcomer Nico Iamaleava.
For starters, this means Tennessee may struggle to put together a triple quarterback. Despite Hendon Hooker’s success on Josh Heupel’s quarterback-friendly offense, the Vols may not be an attractive target for transfers right now.
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Milton’s performance in the Orange Bowl further positioned him to retain the quarterback baton, which he received after Hooker suffered a season-ending ACL injury in November.
And Iamaleava, who enrolled in January, is ranked the nation’s No. 1 by On3’s recruitment service. That makes Tennessee appear well-positioned as a quarterback for the present and its future, leaving little room for a transfer to compete for meaningful snaps.
In addition to Milton and Iamaleava, Tennessee is armed with Gaston Moore and Navy Shuler. Surely the Vols want another grantee quarterback, difficult as it may be to get one.
The transfer portal closes for new entries on Wednesday, but schools can still add players who are in the portal. Or Tennessee may choose to wait until after spring training. The portal will reopen in May and will see a second wave of activity as players unhappy with their post-spring standing enter.
Even if Tennessee goes into May with just two scholarship quarterbacks, having the likes of Milton and Iamaleava on the depth list is better than having three or four scholarship quarterbacks you don’t trust with the job.
Jackson’s exit says a lot for Milton and Iamaleava – as long as both remain healthy, Tennessee should be in good hands.
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Blake Toppmeyer is the SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Adam Sparks is the Tennessee Football Beat Writer for the Knoxville News Sentinel. John Adams is the News Sentinel’s senior columnist. If you enjoy their coverage, consider it a digital subscription so you can access everything. You can also subscribe The Volunteer State podcast for free so you don’t miss an episode. Toppmeyer and Adams also host another weekly podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered. Or check out theirs SEC Unfiltered Newsletter.